Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 24 Wisconsin.
Madison is a fun town, Wisconsin is a fine school, but the Badgers, God bless ‘em, are about to get wrecked this season. If you’re looking for blame or reason, just take a gander at their schedule, chalk it up to karma, and come back in 2017.
Before we get to the part about the players, who will most certainly go out and try their darnedest to make some noise in the Big Ten West, just know Wisconsin opens with LSU, has two weeks to score wins against Akron and Georgia State, then has to consecutively play Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Iowa to open conference play. That’s a brutal way to open a season, especially with a new quarterback and defensive coordinator. Don’t feel too bad for Badgers fans, though. These are the people who threw snowballs at their volunteer cheerleaders, so they can eat it.
The Wisconsin offense had a rough go of it last season, scoring just 26.8 points per game (this is college football, folks) to rank 81st in the nation. Not having Melvin Gordon tends to set you back a bit on offense, especially when your quarterback is Joel Stave, a four-year starter for Wisconsin who, I shit you not, went on record with The Minnesota Star Tribune and said he forgot how to throw.
Of course, that was apparent to anyone who still remembers how to see, as Stave threw 20 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in his final two years in Madison. This isn’t to say he was completely awful all the time. He still managed to lead the Badgers to a 10-3 record and a bowl win over USC last year, closing his career as the winningest quarterback in Wisconsin history (thanks to his backfield, defense, and the fact the Badgers couldn’t recruit any better options). Now he has a shot at making an NFL roster with the Vikings. The good people of Minnesota better pray for Bridgewater’s little knees and Shaun Hill’s Life Alert, because if they have to turn to Stave, there will be tears. For old time’s sake, let’s watch Stave’s fourth-quarter fumble at the Iowa 1-yard line one last time.
Replacing the forgetful quarterback will be either Bart Houston or Alex Hornibrook. Houston, a senior who put together a solid performance against Illinois (I know, it’s not Alabama, but he went 22-of-33, so it’s not nothing) has more game experience, but Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman, displayed impressive arm strength and improved his accuracy throughout the spring. That QB competition is still ongoing, so we don’t know which one will be eaten alive by the Tigers in Week 1.
Whoever starts at quarterback will have redshirt junior Troy Fumagalli, a much-improved former walk-on, as their No. 1 tight end, and Robert Wheelwright as the top receiver. Jazz Peavy, who racked up 20 receptions last year, and George Rushing, who had a decent spring, will be the other options out wide. But if we’re being serious, and I’d like to think we are, these guys aren’t going to be the foundation of this team.
Per usual, the most important member of the Wisconsin attack will be the running back. While this notion has been an exciting one for Badger fans for years, there’s more uncertainty than normal this year. Gone are the Montee Balls, James Whites and Melvin Gordons that regularly cranked out 1,500-plus yard seasons. Senior Corey Clement, this year’s starter, seemed the heir apparent following Gordon’s departure in 2014 and made public his desire to rush for 2,000 yards and bolt for the NFL after his junior year. Sports hernias, however, do not care much for plans; Clement played in four games all of last season. He also got suspended for one game after lying to his coaches about the circumstances of a fight he got into.
Clement is still the most talented back at the Badgers’ disposal, so he will inevitably end up bolstering the offense, along with team captain and senior tailback Dare Ogunbowale. Ogunbowale filled in for Clement last year, posting 819 yards and seven scores. Clement found the end zone five times despite carrying the ball 48 times to Ogunbowale’s 194; this is a roundabout way of saying Wisconsin will desperately need Clement to stay healthy and not throw hands over who gets to hit the elevator button if the Badgers want to succeed.
Defensively, the Badgers should be just fine, even with Justin Wilcox replacing the much accomplished Dave Aranda at defensive coordinator. The entire unit was the top scoring defense in college football last year, and Wisconsin’s front seven, the fourth-best rushing defense in the nation last year, returns four starters, including linebacker and former mullet-enthusiast Vince Biegel.
The Badgers’ biggest worry this season will be the secondary. Last year’s crew allowed just seven touchdowns through the air all season. Three of those guys are gone now, set to be replaced by the likes of Natrell Jamerson and Derrick Tindal at corner, and D’Cota Dixon at safety. Dixon isn’t a lock, but he filled in well last season when called upon and will likely see significant playing time in the season opener. Something to look out for with Dixon early on in the season will be his physical form—he came down with an infection last winter and lost 20 pounds while recovering in the spring. Tindal, who, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, also lined up at receiver during spring ball, will play across from Sojourn Shelton, the sole returning starter in the group.
Corey Clement unseats Biegal as Wisconsin’s Guy To Know not due to past production, but rather potential importance. Clement, a 5-foot-11, 209-pound back, is a powerful runner with a proven knack at breaking through to the second and third levels—in his impressive sophomore campaign, he averaged 6.7 yards per carry as a relief back to Melvin Gordon. His on-field and in-hallway prowess extends from the fact he maintains some beautiful footwork in traffic and can make use of an effective stiff arm after bursting through the line.
[Looks at schedule.] Hahahahahaha.
Last year, I said Paul Chryst was not a dick. I maintain this position. After all, at least he talked to Pittsburgh players in person before he left for Wisconsin, unlike his predecessor, Todd Graham, who hit them with the text break-up. Chryst lays it all out there on the dance floor; he’s fine.
Sept. 3: LSU
Sept. 10: Akron
Sept. 17: Georgia State
Sept. 24: @ Michigan State
Oct. 1: @ Michigan
Oct. 15: Ohio State
Oct. 22: @ Iowa
Oct. 29: Nebraska
Nov. 5: @ Northwestern
Nov. 12: Illinois
Nov. 19: @ Purdue
Nov. 26: Minnesota